5 reasons Freiburg will STILL beat Juventus in the UEFA Europa League last 16
With Vincenzo Grifo in career-best form and their strong and spirited collective, bundesliga.com outlines why Freiburg can recover a first-leg deficit at home to Juventus in the UEFA Europa League last 16...
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1) Grifo's got it
Although Freiburg are better known for hard graft and keeping their feet on the ground than they are for star names, Grifo has emerged as a talismanic force in their attack as they continue to take the Bundesliga - and Europe - by storm this season.
Nine goals in his past 10 league starts have seen the winger emerge as one of the most dangerous players in the division, as any doubts about their right to be at the business end of the Bundesliga table have been banished. He is now a real candidate in the race to be the league's top scorer as a result. No Juventus player can match Grifo's 12 goals in the league this season - Dusan Vlahovic is their lead scorer with eight strikes.
Watch: Grifo reacts to Juventus draw
Grifo will be relishing the opportunity to show his sleek form against familiar faces in the Europa League tie. He has eight international caps in total for Italy, and scored two goals in a 3-1 friendly win for the Azzurri in Albania last November - with Leonardo Bonucci and Nicolo Fagioli of Juventus in the same squad.
Grifo has spoken of his delight at representing his country alongside such famous names, saying: "You walk into the room and there are 70-80 people, especially Bonucci, Chiellini, Marco Verratti. And loud Juventus players who you used to cheer on as a kid on TV, used to wear their shirts. And suddenly you’re one of them and training with them. That’s why I hold onto that so tightly because nobody can take that time away from you. So, whenever I flew there, I enjoyed it as if it were my last day."
2) Momentum, momentum, momentum
Freiburg's shiny new Europa Park Stadion offers a perfect stage for big European nights. And it is a stage the club have absolutely thrived on this season. A 1-1 draw away at Qarabag in November ensured Freiburg would be one of just four teams to finish the Europa League group stages unbeaten - and put the club in the knockout stages of a continental competition for the first time.
While European football fever has well and truly gripped the small Black Forest city, things are a bit gloomier on the other side of the Alps. Juventus are currently seventh in Serie A - a position that would represent their poorest top-flight finish in over a decade if it is not improved by the end of May - despite a 3-2 victory over Sampdoria this weekend.
A mere three points made for Juventus' worst UEFA Champions League group campaign on record last autumn - with a 2-0 defeat to Maccabi Haifa, one of five group stage losses, the low point. A victory against Nantes in the Europa League play-off round may have provided some relief, but they were held 1-1 in Turin by a team Freiburg beat 2-0 and 4-0 in the group stages. With just one goal separating the two sides going into the second leg and unbeaten in all but one home game in all competitions this term, Die Breisgauer have the form to turn the tie.
3) In Streich we trust
Christian Streich enjoys the kind of popularity that 99 percent of football coaches can only dream of. Having been at the helm for over 11 years, Streich is synonymous with the Freiburg success story. After leading his side to the kind of season the patient and supportive fanbase could only dream of - including involvement in the Bundesliga title race - the inspirational coach will be immortalised in Freiburg for the stunning European run to date, regardless of the outcome against the Old Lady of Italian football.
Watch: Christian Streich: A Freiburg fairytale
You can be sure that Streich will send his players out into the meeting against Juventus with the same pressure-free mentality he faces - by asking them to give them all but take pride whatever the result. His words after the draw reflected that outlook, with a focus more on the Italian giants' reputation than their current struggles.
He said: "When I hear Juventus - everything has to come together over the two games for you to have a chance against them. It’s also not particular far for our fans. I can imagine that a few will make their way there. It will be a brilliant event. A last 16 game against Juventus is definitely a highlight for the club.”
4) Cup specialists
While they will love to be portrayed as underdogs against Juventus, Freiburg's record in knockout competitions is quietly rather extraordinary. They are in the quarter-finals of this season's DFB Cup, where they will play Bayern Munich, and last season lost in the final only after penalty shoot-out heartache against Leipzig. Indeed, if you throw the Europa League group stage and first leg against Juve into the mix, the Black Forest side have lose just one of their last 17 matches in cup competitions within 90 minutes.
Such a good run of cup results cannot be down to sheer fortune. Their shape and grit makes Freiburg formidable opponents in knockout football. In not one of those 17 cup ties did Freiburg concede more than a single goal within 90 minutes.
5) Set-piece masters
Freiburg are feared up and down the Bundesliga for their threat from a dead ball. A superb free-kick tucked by Grifo into the bottom right of the target against Bayer Leverkusen during Matchday 23 was their 16th goal of the season from set-plays (the most in the division), while the Italian delivered 12 of those dead balls. Freiburg also lead the rest of the division in terms of penalties scored (six).
They have shown this strength on the European stage too, with Nicolas Höfler glancing a header from a clipped-in free-kick from Grifo to give them a 1-0 lead after just four minutes of play of their first Europa League away tie of the season at Olympiacos. It was a game Freiburg went on to comfortably win 3-0.
Watch: Grifo's stunning free-kick against Leverkusen
Defensive organisation is generally a watchword at Juventus, and just 22 goals conceded in 26 Serie A matches this season suggest they might be a tough nut to crack. Some 13 goals conceded in six Champions League group stage matches indicate that are struggling to find defensive consistency in Europe, though.
Following a tight first leg, Freiburg's set-piece prowess could prove decisive - and you would not want to count against the men from the Black Forest delivering one when it is most needed.
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